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Electromagnetic wavesMagnetic and Electric Effects on Water

V Electric effects on water
V Magnetic effects on water
V Electromagnetic effects on water
V Other related effects

V Electrolysis

V Magnetic descaling


Due to the partial covalency of water's hydrogen bonding, electrons are not held by individual molecules but are easily distributed amongst water clusters giving rise to coherent regions [1691] capable of interacting with local electric [1692] and magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation [1602].

Electric effects on water


Water, being dipolar, can be partly aligned by an electric field and this may be easily shown by the movement of a stream of water by an electrostatic source [163]. Very high field strengths (>2.5 x 109 V m-1) cause water dissociation in liquid water and hexagonal ice with slightly higher field strengths (>3.6 x 109 V m-1) causing continued proton flow in ice [2131]. Similarly high field strengths (5 x 109 V m-1) are required to reorient water in ice such that freezing is inhibited [251], with lower fields (105 V m-1) encouraging ice formation in supercooled water [1327] by weakening the hydrogen bonding. Even partial alignment of the water molecules with the electric field will cause pre-existing hydrogen bonding to become bent or broken. The balance between hydrogen bonding and van der Waals dispersion attractions is thus biased towards van der Waals attractions giving rise to less cyclic hydrogen bonded clustering. An electric field also changes the molecular O-H bond lengths (25x109 V m-1 causing ~±6% change in a lone water molecule), H-O-H bond angle (25x109 V m-1 causing ~+1%/-0.2% change in a lone water molecule), vibrational frequencies and dissociation energy, depending on the relative orientation of the molecule to the field [1727]. This will affect the hydrogen bonded network in an anisotropic manner


High interfacial fields (E > 109 V m-1, > thermal energy) at electrode (or charged) surfaces can cause a phase transition with an ordered layering of water at high densities similar to ice X [420]. Depending on the value of the field, the restriction pressures may cause melting or freezing as corresponding to the normal phase behavior [873]. High fields (E ~109 V m-1) might also be found (perhaps surprisingly) at the surface of hydrophilic molecules where caused by the partial charges on the atoms and the small distances between the surface and first hydration layer. High fields affect hydrogen bonding in an anisotropic manner, hydrogen bonds being strengthened along the field but weakened orthogonal to the field [582]. At low fields, however, both translational and rotational motions may be reduced. Electric fields are expected to increase the differences in the properties between the ortho and para forms of water [1186]. Electric fields also lower the dielectric constant of the water [616], due to the resultant partial or complete destruction of the hydrogen-bonded network.


Pure water is a poor conductor of electricity but is not a perfect insulator as it always contains ions due to self-dissociation. Passage of an electric current causes electrolysis, f producing O2 at the anode and H2 at the cathode [1436] with the resulting water storing the charge separation for extensive periods of time (hours) [1550]. At metallic electrodes, even quite low voltages can have impressive effects on the orientation of the water molecules and the positioning of ions [375]. c A negative potential of -0.23 V orients water hydrogen atoms towards the electrode whereas +0.52 V reverses this; both causing some hydrogen bond breakage and localized density increase. d Ions are attracted or repelled dependent on their charge. Similar orientations may take place at the surface of minerals containing alternating positive and negative charges such that a solid (static and non-exchangeable) water layer has been reported at the surface of highly polar metal oxides, (for example, TiO2). Also, an ambient temperature single layer ice (with all the donor hydrogen bonds oriented towards each other or the silica surface oxygen atoms) is found, using modeling, on the surface of hydrophilic fully hydroxylated silica ([701], called ice tessellation), which may explain the many layers of structured water found at the surfaces of complex silicates. Thus, a high-voltage electric field (333 kV m-1) has been shown to raise the water activity in bread dough, so ensuring a more efficient hydration of the gluten [331]. Rather unexpectedly, such electric fields (~1 MV m-1) apparently increase water's surface tension by about 2% [680]. e [Back to Top to top of page]

Magnetic effects on water

Liquid water is affected by magnetic fields [1522, 1597] and such fields can assist its purification [1651]. Water is diamagnetic and may be levitated in very high magnetic fields (10 T, compare Earth's magnetic field 50 μT) [170]. Lower, but still powerful, magnetic fields (0.2 T) have been shown, in simulations, to increase the number of monomer water molecules [192] but, rather surprisingly, they increase the tetrahedrality at the same time. Other studies show an increase in cluster size in liquid water is caused by a magnetic field [1597]. In contrast, the friction coefficient of water in thin films has been shown to reduce in a magnetic field (0.16-0.53 T), indicating a possible reduction in hydrogen bond strength [2012]. Salt mobility is enhanced in strong magnetic fields (1-10 T) causing some disruption to the hydrogen bonding [1431]. However this only causes a net reduction in hydrogen bonding at high salt concentrations (for example 5 M NaCl), whereas at lower concentrations (1 M NaCl) the increase in water hydrogen bonding in the presence of such high magnetic fields more than compensates for this effect [1431]. They may also assist clathrate formation [485]. The increase in refractive index with magnetic field has been attributed to increased hydrogen bond strength [647]. Weak magnetic fields (15 mT) have also been shown to increase the evaporation rate [1278]. These effects are consistent with the magnetic fields weakening the van der Waals bonding between the water molecules a and the water molecules being more tightly bound, due to the magnetic field reducing the thermal motion of the inherent charges by generating dampening forces [703]. Due to the fine balance between the conflicting hydrogen bonding and non-bonded interactions in water clusters, any such weakening of the van der Waals attraction leads to a further strengthening of the hydrogen bonding and greater cyclic hydrogen bonded clustering. This effect of the magnetic field on the hydrogen bonding has been further supported by the increased ease of supercooling (5 mT lowering about 1 °C, [1908]), the rise in the melting point of H2O (5.6 mK at 6 T) and D2O (21.8 mK at 6 T) [703] and the 3 °C lowering of the sol-gel transition (at 0.3 T) in methylcellulose [1203], both indicating a weakening of the van der Waals bonding of the water molecules within a magnetic field. Far greater effects on contact angle and Raman bands have been shown to occur using strong magnetic fields (6 T) when the water contains dissolved oxygen (but not without the paramagnetic oxygen), indicating effects due to greater clathrate-type water formation [970].


The magnetic susceptibility of water increases from negative towards positive with magnetic frequency and is reported to be positive (i.e. it is slightly paramagnetic) in the range of 0.4-1 MHz [1761] for ambient water.


Static magnetic effects have been shown to cause strengthened hydrogen bonding [1693] and an increase in the ordered structure of water formed around hydrophobic molecules and colloids [106], as shown by the increase in fluorescence of dissolved probes [108]. Also, magnetic fields affect the infrared spectrum of water (showing its effect on water clustering) and these effects remain for considerable time after the magnetic field is removed [1697]. Surprisingly, even very small magnetic fields may affect the solubility of gases in seawater (solubility increasing with magnetic field (20-50 µT) [1492], probably by their effect on the clathrate stability. This reinforces the view that it is the movement through a magnetic field, and it associated electromagnetic effect, that is important for disrupting the hydrogen bonding. Such fields can also increase the evaporation rate of water and the dissolution rate of oxygen (due to its paramagnetic nature) but cannot, despite claims by certain expensive water preparations, increase the equilibrium amount of oxygen dissolved in water above its established, and rather low, equilibrium concentration [176]. Magnetic fields can also increase proton spin relaxation [623], which may speed up some reactions dependent on proton transfer. Treatment of water with magnetic fields of about one Tesla increases the strength of mortar due to its greater hydration [426]. Treatment with constant transverse magnetic or electric fields is reported to gives rise to a disinfection effect [2069]. [Back to Top to top of page]

Electromagnetic effects on water

The electromagnetic spectrum

From the above, it appears that electric and magnetic fields have opposite effects on water clustering. Unstructured water with fewer hydrogen bonds is a more reactive environment [286], as exemplified by the enhanced reactivity of supercritical water. b An open, more hydrogen-bonded network structure slows reactions due to its increased viscosity, reduced diffusivities and the less active participation of water molecules. Any factors that reduce hydrogen bonding and hydrogen bond strength, such as electric fields, should encourage reactivity. Water clusters (even with random arrangements) have equal hydrogen bonding in all directions. As such, electric or electromagnetic fields that attempt to reorient the water molecules should necessitate the breakage of some hydrogen bonds; for example, electric fields have been reported to halve the mean water cluster size as measured by 17O-NMR [111] (see also 'declustered' water) and increase reaction rates [1336], hydration and solubility. Electromagnetic radiation (for example, microwave) has been shown to exert its effect primarily through the electrical rather than magnetic effect [455]. The increased hydration ability of water in electromagnetic fields has been shown by the dissociation of an enzyme dimer (electric eel acetylcholinesterase), leading to gel formation, due to the microwave radiation from a mobile phone [714]. The resultant aqueous restructuring caused by such processes may be kinetically stable.


The solubility properties of the water will change in the presence of such fields and may result in the concentration of dissolved gases and hydrophobic molecules at surfaces followed by reaction (for example, due to reactive singlet oxygen (1O2) or free radical formation such as OH·) or phase changes (for example, formation of flattish surface nanocavities, termed nanobubbles [506]). It is also possible that these processes may result in the production of low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide in a similar manner to mechanical vibrations [1066, see equations]. Such changes can clearly result in effects lasting for a considerable time, giving rise to claims for 'memory' effects. One of the curious facts, concerning reports of the effects of magnets and electromagnetic radiation on the properties of water, is the long lifetime these effects seem to have (for example, [757]). This should not be so surprising, however, as it can take several days for the effects, of the addition of salts to water, to finally stop oscillating [4] and several months where such solutions are still changing [1148]. Also, there is evidence that water structuring in still deaerated pure water increases over a period of a day or two [509], changes in dilute ethanol solution over a period of days [1102], and in homeopathic preparations over hundreds of days [1039] a, clathrates may persist metastably in water [485], water restructuring after infrared radiation persists for more than a day [730], and water photoluminescence (possibly due to impurities at gas/liquid interfaces [800b]) changes over a period of days [801].


In addition to the breakage of hydrogen bonds electromagnetic fields may perturb in the gas/liquid interface and produce reactive oxygen species [110]. Changes in hydrogen bonding may effect carbon dioxide hydration resulting in pH changes. Thus the role of dissolved gas in water chemistry is likely to be more important than commonly realized [459]; particularly as the formation of nanobubbles (that is, nanocavities) [506, 1129, 1172] containing just a few hundred or less molecules of gas, the stability of larger bubbles (~300 nm diameter) detected by light scattering [800a] and nanobubble coating of hydrophobic surfaces [803] have all been recently described. Reinforcement of this view comes from the effect of magnetized water on ceramic manufacture [601] and out-gassing experiments that apparently result in the loss of magnetic and electromagnetic effects [110, 800a] or photoluminescent effects [800b]. Gas accumulating at hydrophobic surfaces [459b] promotes the hydrophobic effect and low-density water formation. The accumulated gas molecules at such hydrophobic surfaces becomes supersaturating when electromagnetic effects disrupt this surface low-density water. An interesting (and possibly related) 'memory of water' phenomenon is the effect of water, previously exposed to weak electromagnetic signals, on the distinctive patterns and handedness of colonies of certain bacteria [971]. Here, the water retains the effect for at least 20 minutes after exposure to the field. It has been proposed that extremely weak (40 nT) alternating magnetic fields combined with a weak (40 μT) static magnetic fields, affect living systems by shifting molecules between coherent (clusters involving stronger hydrogen bonds e.g. ES) and incoherent (clusters involving weaker hydrogen bonds e.g. CS) domains [2231].


Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) have significant and lasting effects on liquid water. Using a weak field, adjusted to give a magnetic field of 45 µT, on glutamic acid solutions causes changes in the pH shifting towards the de-protonated species [1896]. Using just water, FTIR-ATR spectroscopy (see below left) showed that the lower energy part of the stretching absorption band (~3250 cm-1), which is related to the coherent fully-hydrogen bonded population, decreases [1896]. Stronger ELF-EMF fields (~0.15 T) were applied to water and its relative permittivity (dielectric constant) measured and compared with that of untreated water (see below right). It was found that the relative permittivity (dielectric constant) of the ELF-EMF field-treated water was 3.7% higher than the control over the frequency range of 1-10 GHz, which may indicate a higher molecular polarization in the treated water [1897].


Effect of ELF-EMF on liquid water, from refs 1896 and 1897


If electromagnetic effects do indeed influence the degree of structuring in water [1323], then it is clear that they may have an effect on health. The biological effects of microwaves, for example, have generally been analyzed in terms of their very small heating effects. However, it should be recognized that there might be significant non-thermal effects (for example, [714]) due to the imposed re-orientation of water at the surfaces of biomolecular structures such as membranes [356]. Similar effects on membranes have been proposed to occur due to magnetic [657] and electric fields [1086]. Additionally as low-frequency, low level alternating electric fields have been found to affect the electrical conductivity of pure water [358], the effects of living near power cables and microwave towers should, perhaps, not be thought harmless just because no theory for harm has been formally recognized. Even variations in the geomagnetic field may have some long-term exposure effects. [Back to Top to top of page]

Other related effects

Recently, there has been some debate over 'digital biology'; a proposal from Jacques Benveniste (leader of the team that produced the controversial homeopathy paper) that 'specific molecular signals in the audio range' (hypothetically the 'beat' frequencies of water's infrared vibrations) may be heard, collected, transmitted (for example, by phone) and amplified to similarly affect other water molecules at a receiver [134, 1211]. This unlikely idea is generally thought highly implausible. The data has, however, reportedly been independently confirmed but this has not yet been published (which may be rather problematic in the present skeptical climate). Note that experimental confirmation of the phenomenon may not necessarily confirm the proposed mechanism. Rather interestingly, however, electromagnetic emission has been detected during the freezing of supercooled water [297] due to negative charging of the solid surface at the interface caused by surface dissociation of water molecules followed by preferential loss of hydrogen ions [462]; a consequence, perhaps, of the Costa Ribeiro effect [551]. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that similar effects may occur during changes in the structuring of liquid water. Also, it has been reported that microwave frequencies can also give rise to signals audible to radar operators [356].  Possible confirmation of the important effects of electromagnetic fields may be found in a recent paper from Nobel prize-winning Luc Montagnier, who declared that quite dilute solutions (of DNA) show entirely different properties from the less diluted solutions, that seem to depend on interactions with the ambient electromagnetic field [1602]. This research, importantly, also appears to show that such effects can be transmitted through space from one container to another. h


Belief in whether or not magnetic or electromagnetic fields can have any more permanent effect on water, and solutions, depends on the presence of a working hypothesis for their mode of action (see also homeopathy). Such hypotheses are emerging. On a cautionary note however, many studies either do not treat results with proper statistical rigor or do not use relevant 'untreated' material for comparison. Permanent changes to the structure of water are reported following exposure to resonant RLC (resistance inductance capacitance) circuits [927]. The effects, however, are small and poorly reproducible and, as with some of the other studies mentioned here, should be viewed with the possibility that pathological science is at work. [Back to Top to top of page]


a This effect has been shown in weakly bound van der Waals complexes as due to the coupling between magnetic-field induced energy levels (Zeeman levels) of the molecular orbitals [659]. [Back]


b Note that this may not extend to conditions of much-reduced hydrogen bonding. At close to critical and supercritical conditions, water molecules may become less reactive than expected with temperature increase due to the loss of hydrogen bonding causing consequential loss of the 'cage' effect, which encourages reactions within the 'cage', and reduced polarization activation. [Back]


c Note that the electric field strength across the surface monolayer of water molecules may be of the order of 1010 V m-1 for just a few volts applied potential. [Back]


d The binding of water molecules to uncharged metal surfaces depends on the nature of the metal. On a platinum Pt(111) surface, half the water molecules form Pt····OH2 links with the other half forming Pt····H-OH bonds due to the balance between Pt····H hydrogen bond formation and H-O bond weakening. Other metal surfaces may prefer one or the other water orientation or cause partial dissociation of the protons dependent on their proton affinity [523]. [Back]


e There is some dispute over the effects of electric and magnetic fields on surface tension. Electric and magnetic fields have been reported to lower the surface tensions of natural water by up to 8% [735]. However, it has been noted elsewhere that surface tension measurements are too sensitive to impurities to provide reliable data [979]. Recently, high magnetic fields (10 T) have been reported as increasing the surface tension of water by almost 2% (3.3% for D2O), with this being possibly due to the stabilization of the hydrogen bonds or the dampening of surface waves [1471]. Other studies indicate either a lowering of surface tension within a magnetic field [1597] or a raising of the surface tension with the magnetic field [2054], so no definitive conclusions may be drawn at present although the balance of probabilities is that the surface tension increases with magnetic field. [Back]


f Using very high voltages with high power (~100 kV, >1000 A), an electric discharge through the water may result giving a plasma channel (>10,000 K) with a wide emission spectrum from vacuum ultraviolet to infrared [1076]. Such a system produces significant quantities of OH· radicals, singlet oxygen (1O2), peroxide (H2O2) and ozone (O3). [Back]


g The methodology used in this paper has been criticized [1583]. [Back]


h The extraordinary results given in this paper have yet to be independently confirmed. [Back]



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